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Archive for Sunday, August 27, 2006

Cubs’ Baker reveals racial hate mail

August 27, 2006

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— When Dusty Baker essentially opened his racist hate mail to America by recently sharing details of several letters with a USA Today reporter, critics questioning Baker's tactics out of habit wondered if this was part of his exit strategy.

It suggested to some that Baker was just lining up excuses in case the Cubs do not offer him a contract, especially when he said he was "sorry it even came out."

Why else risk creating the perception nationally that Cubs fans had become more intolerant about their manager's skin color than impatient about their team's futility?

Why raise suspicion about every Bleacher Bum who walks into Wrigley Field being a bigot?

Why not just realize that a few kooks hardly speak for an entire fan base and a $4 million salary buys a measure of discretion when dealing with matters so potentially explosive?

Baker downplayed the story a day after it appeared, saying any hostility he felt would not affect his feelings about next year and that positive mail outnumbered the negative.

Harry Edwards, a well-known sports sociologist, said Baker revealing the contents of his most critical mail had nothing to do with an exit strategy and everything to do with providing an entry point to a necessary discussion about racism among sports fans.

"You don't get used to it just because you've been around awhile," said Edwards, an African-American and a longtime consultant with the San Francisco 49ers.

Edwards, critical of Baker three years ago when the Cubs' manager commented about the weather's effect on blacks and Latinos, understands all managers and players receive harsh mail but stressed, "There's a distinction made when there is a racial dimension to it."

Edwards was in the Bay Area when Baker made public similar letters, which most players and managers receive, when he was San Francisco's manager. Type the words "hate mail" and "baseball managers" into an Internet search engine for national newspapers, and Baker is the only manager referenced in the last 13 years.

Neither White Sox manager Ozzie Guillen nor predecessor Jerry Manuel ever mentioned receiving the type of racist mail Baker received, according to vice president of communications Scott Reifert, though Guillen recently raved that white managers "don't like a Latino kicking their (bleep)."

Of the three other minority managers in major-league baseball besides Baker and Guillen - Felipe Alou of the Giants, Frank Robinson of the Washington Nationals and Willie Randolph of the New York Mets - Alou created a stir last year by objecting when a local talk-show host who was later fired slurred the team's Latino players.

But none of the minority managers have been exposed to the level of abuse beyond the dugout, or at least discussed it publicly, as much as Baker has after raised expectations in 2003 changed the culture at Wrigley Field.

"I think (Baker) has not just a right but a responsibility to talk about the letters and say it's not all peaches and cream, and it's something another manager would not have to deal with," Edwards said. "No one is served by acting like this never happened."

To Edwards, it doesn't matter if the racist rhetoric came from one fan or 100 or if the majority of Baker detractors believe his shortcomings have nothing to do with his skin color. To him, there is no such thing as being "kind of" racist.

"Whether you were in Philadelphia and got 10 letters or Chicago and got five letters and 12 e-mails, who cares?" he said.

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